Harris County, Texas — home to Houston, the USA’s fourth largest city — has sued Volkswagen for at least $100 million for fraud. This came after VW admitted putting stealth software in 11 million diesel vehicles which could pass emissions tests yet spew pollution into the atmosphere while boosting fuel economy.
The Harris County VW lawsuit filed by County Attorney Vince Ryan against Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., maintains that such vehicles released nitrogen oxide at levels far exceeding allowable standards. The metro area’s air quality already is below national standards.
Harris County’s environmental lawsuit states that nitrogen oxide is a contributor to ozone formation. VW’s diesel vehicles that purported to be environmentally cleaner while getting better mileage actually violated Texas emissions standards, the suit maintains, creating a public health hazard.
The lawsuit seeks up to $25,000 per violation per day.
VW admitted in September of 2015 that it deliberately tried to subvert emissions test results in four-cylinder diesel editions of 2009-2015 Jetta TDI , 2012-15 Beetle TDI, the 2012-15 Beetle convertible TDI, the 2009-14 Jetta SportWagen TDI, the 2010-15 Golf TDI and VW-owned 2012-15 Passat TDI and Audi models with two-liter diesel engines.
By cloaking the truth during emissions tests, the vehicles then could continue emitting as much as 40 times more pollution than U.S. emissions standards allow.
Actually, owners of diesel engine vehicles in Texas aren’t required to pass emissions tests. Even so, Harris County officials say at least 6,000 VW owners in the county could face trouble out of state. But the county also wants VW to pay for years of added pollution to the Houston area, which is why it filed its civil lawsuit.
In addition to the Texas lawsuit against Volkswagen, VW lawsuits also are being filed in other states. Most of these have been by owners of individual diesel engine vehicles — owners who must contend with lower resale value and with needed repairs for the fraudulent vehicles. (VW’s stock prices reportedly dropped 30% after the news.) Many of these individuals’ lawsuits are expected to be consolidated into class action lawsuits.
There’s also a lawsuit by a Michigan-based pension fund whose holders reportedly have lost many millions of dollars from retirement investments in Volkswagen.
Also filing lawsuits have been independent California auto dealers, while more than 25 states’ attorneys general are launching probes into the German automakers. Already, federal lawsuits have been filed in more than a dozen states, and lawsuits also are being filed in Canada.
The first attack on VW came from the Environmental Protection Agency, which brought the emissions scandal to light. Harris County’s lawsuit against VW then became what’s believed to be the first by a government agency.
All of these lawsuits are expected to seek billions of dollars in damages. Lawsuits in Europe could lead to an more steep price, since many more diesel vehicles are sold in Europe than in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a criminal probe, as have prosecutors in Germany, Volkswagen’s home base.
Also, the American Lung Association has taken action by demanding that VW recall each of the polluting vehicles equipped with “defeat devices.”
Volkswagen has declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Ryan told KTRK Channel 13 in Houston that Harris County, home to the energy industry and to millions of vehicles, has had trouble meeting federal clean air standards. “Volkswagen’s deceitful acts have damaged the county’s ability to improve air quality, reach clean air attainment status and protect our citizens,” Ryan said.
Indeed, the ozone formation believed to have been boosted by VW’s stealth can lead to serious health problems, including bronchitis and asthma attacks, coughing and chest pain. Nitrogen oxides also can cause cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses and can lead to premature death.
While the VW vehicles’ tampering has not made them more dangerous for reaching a destination, they have created more dangers for the general population by contributing to air pollution.
According to the American Lung Association, over 40% of Americans reside in areas with unhealthy ozone levels. Yet the tide has been turning. According to the EPA, nitrogen dioxide levels in our air dropped by over half from 1980 to 2014, as anti-pollution measures — such as the emissions tests VW subverted — took effect.
If your family owns one of the diesel engine Volkswagen vehicles involved in VW’s deception, notify an injury lawyer. You may be entitled to financial compensation.